The Washington Post
August 15, 1998; Page A03

                  Five More Baseball Players Leave Cuba
            Defections Come On Castro's Birthday

                  By Sue Anne Pressley

                  MIAMI, Aug. 14—It has happened again. Nine months after the
                  high-profile defection from Cuba of Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and
                  his transformation into a star pitcher for the New York Yankees, five other
                  baseball players have fled Cuba, a Miami-based Cuban exile group
                  announced today.

                  The players were among seven Cuban nationals who escaped to
                  Nicaragua on Thursday night, according to the Cuban American National
                  Foundation, a Miami-based group that sharply opposes President Fidel
                  Castro's communist dictatorship in Havana and helped arrange the haven in
                  Nicaragua. Foundation officials happily noted that the defections occurred
                  on Castro's 72nd birthday, describing them as "a special gift" to the Cuban

                  On May 18, four of the five baseball players were forcibly returned to
                  Cuba from Nassau in the Bahamas after the Cuban government threatened
                  Bahamian authorities with a flood of refugees in retaliation. Foundation
                  officials said the December defection of Orlando Hernandez in Nassau
                  "had proven too much of an international embarrassment" to Castro for him
                  to allow any other baseball players to take that escape route.

                  "What better way to recognize this ignominious day in the history of the
                  Cuban nation than to remind the tyrant that it is impossible to crush the
                  human spirit to live free," foundation Chairman Alberto Hernandez said
                  today about the latest defections. "The free world should take great
                  satisfaction in knowing that this news will prove a very bitter pill indeed for
                  the Cuban dictator as it turns this day into a celebration of freedom, not

                  A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, said
                  the government there has no word of a request for asylum, Reuters
                  reported. But Alfredo Caballero, head of the Nicaraguan airline La
                  Costena, told the news agency that a group of Cubans are in the coastal
                  Nicaraguan city of Puerto Cabezas and are on their way to Managua.

                  Baseball is by far the most popular sport in Cuba and the continuing
                  defection of its players to the United States is a vexing problem to Cuban

                  "There's been a steady drain of talent from the baseball team in Cuba and
                  this is the latest installment. Anytime there's a defection, it's a blow to the
                  government," said Max Castro, a senior research associate at the
                  North-South Center at the University of Miami, and no relation to the
                  Cuban president.

                  Orlando Hernandez, who signed a $6.6 million contract with the Yankees,
                  had been forbidden to play in Cuba because of the earlier escape of his
                  younger half brother, Livan, the Florida Marlins player who was named the
                  World Series' most valuable player. A star of the Cuban national baseball
                  team, Orlando Hernandez fled to the Bahamas in a rickety boat and, with
                  the help of Cuban exiles in Miami, was eventually released from an
                  immigrant detention center in the Bahamas.

                  The players involved in Thursday's defection included Michael Jova, 17, a
                  utility player; Alain Hernandez Cardenas, 21, a pitcher; Osmani Garcia
                  Santana, 23, a utility player; Jorge Diaz Olando, 23, a second baseman
                  nicknamed the Spider, and Angel Lopez Berrido, 25, a catcher. The
                  foundation identified the two others in the group as Ernesto Gonzalez
                  Nunez, 29, and Laura Sanchez Gomez, 23.

                  The four players who were returned earlier had accused the Cuban
                  government of harassing them after they were returned from the Bahamas
                  in May. They said they were banned from playing baseball and threatened,
                  and felt they were under constant surveillance.

                  At the Cuban American National Foundation's Cuban Independence Day
                  celebration on May 20, Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman announced
                  he would grant asylum to a group of 190 Cubans, including the four
                  players, who were then waiting in the Bahamas. But Bahamian authorities
                  deported everyone back to Cuba.

                  Javier Mota, sports editor for El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish version of the
                  Miami Herald, said that baseball "is the only thing the people in Cuba have
                  to watch, to enjoy."

                  The first defection of a big-time player, he said, was Rene Arocha in 1993,
                  the number-one pitcher in Cuba at one time, who went on to pitch for the
                  St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants. But he said only time
                  will tell if any of the players in the latest group rises to star status in the
                  United States.

                  "You never know," he said. "People will tell you any Cuban player can
                  play in the major leagues, but it's a very subjective thing. We'll have to wait
                  and see."